How Not to Become a Hollywood Director

By: Dan Bessie

I'm flying high. Riding the wave crest of a blockbuster film. Executive Action (1973, starring Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan and Will Geer), has become a box office bonanza. Customers are lined up around the block in theaters across the country where this highly controversial film about a conspiracy to assassinate president John F. Kennedy is playing.

OK, what if I do work for more than a year on the project, for what turn out to be dismal wages? What if my promised producer credit does get shaved to co producer? What if my name never makes the screen for the scenes I captain as second unit director? What if I never rake in the pots of money my tiny share of the production company's net first seems to promise? Makes no difference, I decide. My name is now associated with a winner. A big winner. Producers phone back. Agents take my calls. I've got a ticket to play in the big boys sandbox. The world is my oyster.

Well, maybe.

With no trouble at all, one phone call lands me an appointment with legendary movie schlockmeister Roger Corman. (Well, let's be fair, he also produced . and .) And I know that by advancing small bucks, Roger has given a huge leg up to several young directors, including such new legends as Francis Ford Coppola, whose first feature, Dementia 13, he funded.


ROGER CORMAN, graying at the temples, sits with his feet on his desk. He's smiling. In front of him sits an EAGER PRODUCER [that's me] He's pitching.

It's about the Spanish Civil War, see. 1938. We begin with three men in a touring car, on a bridge in Barcelona. One is Ernest Hemingway. Suddenly, an
airplane zooms into the shot and.

Airplanes? Hemingway? 1938? You're talking millions. (sighs) Look, you want to direct? Great. Bring me a terrific script. Like Swamp Women, or Premature Burial. You know the kind of stuff I do. I'll put up fifty thousand, we get a mini name or two, you get a few deferments, and we've got a deal.

Eager Producer furrows his brow then gets up in high dudgeon.

Well, if I ever want to make that kind of movie I'll let you know.

(rising, his smile gone) You do that. You just do that!

A stiff, formal handshake and the interview is terminated.

So too is my first chance to direct a feature.

There's a lesson here; not only for aspiring filmmakers but for any writer or artist; and for anyone in any field who's looking for that next big break. And the lesson is that this kind of snitty behavior, when someone offers to help you, is downright rude and shortsighted. While any artist needs to stick to their creative guns and aim high, recall that long before The Godfather, Frances Ford Coppola cranked out not only Dementia 13, but also such fluff as The Bellboy and the Playgirls (1962).

Hold on. Does this mean that one has to bite nails while creating a sleazy exploitation quickie if it's offered? Or spend weeks pounding out a trashy novel on the laptop? Or contribute to a Republican candidate because the boss asks you too, if you're a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat? No way. Being true to oneself means knowing what you're willing to do, and what offends your deepest sensibilities.

But it also means that when that offer of a leg up does present itself, careful thought, tactful consideration and grateful thanks are in certainly in order - even if you decide the offer isn't one you can accept.

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Reeling Through Hollywood traces the Hollywood career of Dan Bessie Learn more about working in Tinsel Town days at

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